Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Reflecting on the Imaginative: Fallacy # 1

As I draw this series of posts to a conclusion I wanted to take time to speak to the issue of Christian reflection on the imagination. Christians have not always done this well, particularly in the 20th and 21st century Christians have become ignorant of what makes good art, and especially of the imagination. So I have a list of five fallacies which I will briefly detail, so that we may avoid this pitfalls in critiquing and enjoying creativity.

The first fallacy says the following: Art is by its very nature TRUE!

This argument usually stems from those who are trying to defend the arts from its utilitarian critics. Their argument usually states that because art conveys ideas and have an intellectual content to them. The argument attempts to completely wipe out the demand for art to be "useful," for its defenders have stated that all art is useful because it reflects truth.

Leland Ryken warns us here, however, that such a "defense" confuses ideational content with intellectual truth. Ryken writes:

The fact that art has ideational content does not mean that it expresses truth. The ideas in a work of literature or art might be untruthful. In fact, they frequently are. People who make the equation of ideational content with truth have been much too facile and undiscriminating in their claims that hte arts teach truth.

The "TRUTH" about the arts is that their creators possess a variety of conflicting worldviews. One piece of art may state that the world is "meaningless" (such as Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase), while others would seek to convey the grand reality of the Creator God (like Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel painting of the Creation). Obviously both worldviews, and the art that expresses them, cannot be true. One or the other must be wrong. We must be careful not to blindly lump all art together, we must be discerning. When we speak of the imagination and the imaginative we must be sure that some imaginative creations are lies, and, therefore, do not deserve our personal applause.

Love the imagination, but be discerning about the imaginative expressions in our world.

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Blogger noneuclidean said...

I think we might be able to talk about the "truth" of the content art and the "truth" that the artist believes in the content of their art.

In other words, instead of thinking about the truth claims of the worldview expressed in the art, consider the "truth" that people actually do hold to contradictory worldviews. That's one way of arguing that art is always "true." And I believe that is productive because it aids us in understanding the presuppositions of unbelievers in a way that goes beyond philosophical statements. When we consider the "truth" that an artists really believes the world to be meaningless and yet in the act of creation he seems to suggest meaning, we are recognizing a "truth" that is true and aids in our understanding of both the world and the individual. Of course we must be discerning here, but I think there is something to be said for this.

Another way to look at this is the way Schaeffer did in his small book, Art in the Bible, where he says we should look at the merits of art on many levels, the adherence to the Truth of Scripture being one aspect of our critique of art.

When we speak of the "truth" of art, I think it's best to view it as both the "true" reflection of a person's worldview (although the worldview itself is defunct), and as a measure of truthfulness in keeping with the Truths of Scripture: we should examine both the true claims of the worldview expressed and the truth that the artist believes such worldviews (or expresses how others believe them).

12:25 PM  

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